Recently, British weekly The Economist published an article titled “Ma the bumbler.” The article, published on Nov. 17, set off a considerable media and political storm in Taiwan, partly due to mistranslation of the word “bumbler” as “stupid” by local media. It even prompted Representative to the UK Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡) to write a letter to the magazine to defend his boss one week later.
In the letter, Shen pointed out President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) (dubious) macroeconomic and diplomatic “achievements,” but apparently accepted that he was an “ineffectual bumbler” — as the author of the article aptly observed — in terms of microeconomic and domestic policies.
The results of those policies include huge increases in fuel and electricity prices, stagnating wages and salaries, and a financially troubled pension plan for civil servants. Shen provided several statistics to substantiate Ma’s little-known “achievements.” Here is a reality check of his assertions:
In his letter, Shen wrote that: “President Ma … has reached 18 agreements with mainland China.”
However, the agreements were not signed on a country-to-country basis, but rather between semi-governmental organizations. For many Taiwanese, “easing tension and promoting peace” across the Taiwan Strait would mean pushing the economy — and, eventually, their political system — under Chinese control, costing the nation its sovereignty. Because Taiwan is declining and China rising, it is not clear that peace in the Far East and the South China Sea could be maintained.
Furthermore, in the two years since the cross-strait agreements have come into force, no visible benefits can be seen domestically and, contrary to expectations, the Taiwanese economy has been declining, as observed by Chen Po-chi in Look magazine in an article published on Aug. 8 last year. The expected free-trade agreements with other countries have never been realized, though Taiwan’s neighbors have managed to secure such pacts.
Shen also wrote that: “Taiwan’s average economic growth rate between 2008 and 2011 was 3.4 percent.”
However, despite the promise of ushering in a “golden decade” for the Taiwanese economy that Ma made before the 2008 election, the economic growth rate was much lower than the 5.6 percent achieved under former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) between 2004 and 2007.
Taiwan’s ranking on the World Competitiveness Index has been “bumbling” widely: From 2008 to this year, it has been 13, 23 (not 27 as indicated by Shen), 8, 6 and 7. While the ranking is still high, it has been consistently lower than Hong Kong (No. 1 last year and this year) and Singapore (No. 4 this year). Similarly, according to the CIA World Factbook, Taiwan’s exports last year reached US$325 billion, 18th in the world. Taiwan’s ranking is not only lower than that of South Korea (7), it is also lower than that of Hong Kong (10) and Singapore (14). Taiwan’s export competitiveness has clearly been deteriorating.
Shen also wrote to The Economist that: “According to your Economist Intelligence Unit, Taiwan’s GDP per person (PPP adjusted) in 2011 was US$41,385, well over that of Britain (US$35,725), Germany, France, Japan and South Korea.”
The assertion raised considerable interest and consternation among Taiwanese and non-Taiwanese, as if people had only just discovered that Taiwan’s living standards are as good as the world powers’. However, using just one source to make such a claim is unconvincing.